Sun Oven photo by Ready Nutrition.

At Taino Organic Farm, we love harnessing some solar energy to make tasty treats in our Sun Oven. A Sun Oven is a great alternative energy source for developing countries as they are low cost, eco-friendly and energy-efficient. Actually, they’re pretty great no matter where you live. Today I decided to test out how to make cookies in a sun oven with a Recipe for Organic Banana Cacao Cookies.

Organic Banana Cacao Cookies:

1 cup of sugar (substitute with ¾ cup of raw honey for a healthier option)

1 stick of butter

1 egg

1 cup of oats

1 cup of flour

1 teaspoon of vanilla

1 teaspoon of baking soda

1 banana

1 teaspoon of cinnamon

1 tablespoon of raw cacao

How to Make Cookies in a Sun Oven Step 1: In a small mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar until blended. Lightly beat in the egg and vanilla until light and fluffy. I try and use as many local and organic ingredients as possible in my Sun Oven recipes. The butter is made in Sosua and the egg is from a chicken at Taino Organic Farm. You can read about the 5 Benefits of Eating Local and Organic Food in my previous blog post.

Adding a hint of vanilla and creaming together the sugar and butter.

On left: Adding a hint of vanilla. On right: Blending together local butter and sugar.

 How to Make Cookies in a Sun Oven Step 2: Stir in oats, flour and baking soda.

Adding in some oats and flour to the mixture.

Adding in some oats and flour to the mixture.

How to Make Cookies in a Sun Oven Step 3: Make cookie dough into balls and place 2 inches apart or create a giant one (maximizes space).

How to Make Cookies in a Sun Oven Step 4: Place onto cookie sheet or pan and fasten the tabs on the Sun Oven (bake setting). You can read more about how to use your Sun Oven on their website.

Cookie dough balls ready to go into the oven!

Cookie dough balls ready to go into the Sun Oven!

How to Make Cookies in a Sun Oven Step 5: Cook, shifting every 20min or so to maximize sunlight and checking every so often to see if they’re ready. Tip: Don’t open it and let the heat out, just look inside the glass. My crispy cookies took about an hour and a half.

After an hour or so in the Sun Oven, a giant cookie ready to be shared and enjoyed by all.

After an hour or so in the Sun Oven, a giant cookie ready to be shared and enjoyed by all.

How to Make Cookies in a Sun Oven Step 6ow to Make Cookies in a Sun Oven Step 6: Let cool and enjoy your Sun Oven yum-yums! Tip: they’re great with a glass of fresh farm milk. Buen provecho!

 

When people hear the word “organic” in Western culture, they often picture a stereotypical green washed aisle of the grocery store marketed to the upper middle class. However, local and organic food is of global importance and benefits our health, community, and environment.

Organic farming is based on a holistic approach to managing crops and farmland that respects and uses the power of natural processes. It does not use synthetic pesticides, fertilizers or synthetic hormones.

Local food comes from non-corporately owned farms in the area. The standard to be considered local is within a 160km radius of where it is being sold.

  1. Health benefits. Eating local and organic food means you are eating fresh food that is rich in a wide variety of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and enzymes. When food is transported or processed, it is often harvested prematurely to increase shelf life, sacrificing some of its nutritional value. An even bigger issue is if you are buying food that was not produced locally it is likely that you are consuming either genetically modified organisms (GMO’s) or food produced using pesticides and chemicals that are detrimental to human health. Consuming GMO’s comes with the risk of new allergens, increased toxicity, decreased nutrition and antibiotic resistance. Local and organic food on the other hand, especially in areas like the tropics where it is grown year round, offers you a wide variety of fresh nutritional foods without the negative side effects

    Left: Newly planted organic tomatoes at Taino Organic Farm. Right: Tomato sauce made from organic tomatoes, oregano, basil and onion at Taino Organic Farm.

    Left: Newly planted organic tomatoes at Taino Organic Farm. Right: Tomato sauce made from organic tomatoes, oregano, basil and onion at Taino Organic Farm.

  2.  Environmental Implications. Pesticides and genetically modified organisms (GMO’s) are not only harmful to human health, they also dramatically impact the environment. In commercial farming, the use of pesticides and GMO’s obliterates biodiversity, contributing to major issues such as bee colony collapse disorder. Bees are vitally important to human life as they are responsible for pollinating 80 percent of our crops. Albert Einstein once said “If the bee disappears from the surface of the Earth, man would have no more than four years left to live”. You can read more about the importance of bees to ecosystems in my last blog post. In addition to the destruction of biodiversity, the local and organic food movement serves as an alternative to commercial monoculture agriculture, which is a major contributor to issues such as soil degradation as well as air and water pollution. You can find a more comprehensive comparison in Greg Seaman’s article on organic versus commercial agriculture.
  3. Protect future generations. Nearly all of the processes in the modern food system are reliant on oil. This finite resource is coming nearer to depletion everyday, at the rate we are consuming it is likely our supply could be exhausted by 2040. If we do not change our ways, our planet will not be able to sustain future generations. “Even organic supplies are becoming hugely damaging as imports fill our shelves. One shopping basket of 26 imported organic products could have travelled 241,000 kilometers and released as much CO2 into the atmosphere as an average four bedroom household does through cooking meals over eight months” – Norman Church. Hence, shopping for local food is equally important to ensure there will be enough resources to sustain future generations.  You can find more information on food and oil dependency in Norman J. Church’s article on Resilience.org. Oil is a valuable resource, however the rate at which we are using it creates a vast number of problems. Simply put, feeding your children local and organic food benefits their health and their future.

    Buying organic may be healthier, but until you combine it with buying locally sourced food you are still supporting corporations that are responsible for major environmental impacts.

    Buying organic may be healthier, but until you combine it with buying locally sourced food you are still supporting corporations that are responsible for major environmental impacts.

  4. Reduce your Eco-Footprint By growing and buying local organic food, you can decrease your impact on the earth. A major part of living unsustainably is a direct result of the fossil fuels used to grow, process and transport food. Growing and buying local and organic food also decreases our consumption of water, “agriculture is officially the most thirsty industry on the planet, consuming a staggering 72 per cent of all global freshwater” (Organic Farming Benefits). It is our responsibility as humans on this earth to take action and live more sustainable lifestyles, starting with our food.
  5. Build community. Especially in areas like the tropics where food can be grown locally year round, we have an amazing opportunity to support our neighbors and nourish our bodies at the same time. Community gardens, farm shares, work exchange and other co-operatives allow us to connect with one another and perpetuate sustainability.

    Taino Organic Farm volunteer Karin with local kids at the farm.

    Taino Organic Farm volunteer Karin with local kids at the farm.

Tips for buying locally:

– Find a farmers market in your area and get to know your local farmers! Keep an open mind and don’t be afraid to eat foods that aren’t picture perfect. That huge, unblemished, imported apple likely does not compare nutritionally or flavor wise to the “funny shaped” apple at the farmers market.

– When you shop at the grocery store, look for in-season foods that come from farms near you. Co-operatives and natural foods stores are often geared towards local foods and even corporate grocery stores often have some items sourced from the surrounding area.

– Join a CSA (community supported agriculture) and get regular deliveries of fresh local produce. A mutually beneficial relationship for you and your local farmer friend, you don’t have to worry about grocery shopping all the time and they don’t have to worry all of their customers won’t show at the market on Saturday because it’s raining.

Tranquilo honey bees at Taino Organic Farm.

Tranquilo honey bees at Taino Organic Farm.

Everyone has heard the term “busy as a bee” but did you know it takes bees roughly 10 million foraging trips to make the equivalent of one jar of honey? (International Bee Research Association).  Honey bees play a vital role both in our tropical ecosystem and in the world as a whole. They also produce what we consider at Taino Organic Farm to be a form of liquid gold: fresh, raw honey.

Slides of raw honey comb collected from our ten hives at Taino Organic Farm.

Slides of raw honey comb collected from our ten hives at Taino Organic Farm.

At Taino Organic Farm, we harvest honey from our bees three times a year. I was lucky enough to be present for our January harvest.

How is honey harvested? When dusk fell on Tuesday, Taino Organic Farm’s apiarists Victor and Nao went out in full gear to retrieve slides from our ten hives. When harvesting honey, there are two main tools used to avoid upsetting the bees. The first is smoke, which is used to lull them into a more dormant state. The second is clothing. It is best to wear white colored clothing, as wearing colors close to their natural predators (such as a bear) triggers a defensive response.

After the honey slides have been retrieved from the hives, they are carefully opened using a knife and placed into an extractor. The extractor is hand cranked and spins the raw honey from the comb. It is then poured from the extractor through a cloth filter and into storage container. Voila! We have honey and the remaining honey and comb goes back to our happy sleepy bees.

 

Victor preparing the honey comb to harvest raw honey.

Victor preparing the honey comb to harvest raw honey.

Though the process seems simple, it takes bees the equivalent of traveling three times around the world to produce one jar of honey (International Bee Research Association). Most of the honey we buy in supermarkets is actually dyed fructose syrup, in fact US melissopalynologist Vaughn Bryant found that 75{f2973bc577a195c35cdcad3730db5f6ced97ed67eb120151c538413472fe3d08} of honey on US supermarket shelves contained no pollen at all having been through an ultra-filtration technique perfected by Chinese producers. (Bryant). The other 25{f2973bc577a195c35cdcad3730db5f6ced97ed67eb120151c538413472fe3d08} is made primarily by commercial honey producers that feed their bees artificial sweeteners and process their honey with heat, taking away many of the incredible benefits such as it’s anti viral, fungal, bacterial and carcinogenic properties. You can find a full list of the benefits and differences of raw honey and pasteurized honey here. Though it is cheaper this way, honey is also vitally important to bee’s immune systems and helps them defend themselves from pesticides. There is a major shortage of raw honey in the world due to colony collapse disorder, which is caused largely by commercial farming and pesticide use. This is a major problem as honey is essential to bees and bees are essential to human life. Albert Einstein one said “If the bee disappears from the surface of the Earth, man would have no more than four years left to live”. Which brings us back to the importance of organic farming and tropical permaculture! Genetically modified crops, pesticides and diseases (that spread rapidly due to bees with weakened immune systems) are killing off our bees and if we do not look out for them through sustainable farming, we will soon be without our best pollinators and a very valuable resource: raw honey.

Raw honey comb is delicious and has many health benefits.

Raw honey comb is delicious and has many health benefits.

Raw honey has endless benefits, it is great for dietary and external use for humans as well as an amazing resource to perpetuate all of the environmental benefits bees provide. Taino Organic Farm has a limited amount of raw honey available for sale, if you would like to buy a bottle you can contact the farm through our Facebook page, buy from us directly on a farm tour or through eXtreme hotel or Lynsey Wyatt at 849-343-6041. Prices range from $300-$500rd.

At Taino Organic Farm, the biggest portion of our learning is through doing, which just so happens to coincide perfectly with permaculture principle number one: observe and interact. Instead of our usual classroom style permaculture lesson on Tuesday, the whole team decided to put permaculture principle number one into practice by going on a field trip into the mountains. All of the volunteers as well as our permaculture designer and teacher Charlie Durrant and our farm manager and guide Victor hopped on moto conchos towards Sabaneta.

Taino Organic Farm volunteers Karin and Honza on a moto conch riding over a bridge into the mountains.

Taino Organic Farm volunteers Karin and Honza on a moto conch into the mountains.

After the bridge, we cut left and went up a dirt road (or maybe I should say rock road, it was a bumpy ride) and after about ten minutes, got to a path we could walk.We thanked our moto drivers and began our meander through the forest jungle. As we walked, we observed and interacted with our surroundings, stopping often along the way to discuss different plants/wildlife and their purposes. We picked a couple of guanabana (also known as sour sop) fruits to eat and replant.

 

Taino Organic Farm volunteer Peyton Stanley holding a guanabana fruit.

Taino Organic Farm volunteer Peyton Stanley holding a guanabana fruit.

 

Eventually we reached the top of a mountain that overlooks the whole island. To the left in the distance we could see the ocean and below us the Yassica River that we swim in everyday, as well as the dirt road we live on. It was a truly incredible view and allowed us all to step back and realize how incredible it is that we live in a place where we are able to cultivate such diversity.

Piñon trees flowering pink dot the mountainside alongside other lush, diverse foliage and the Yassica river behind.

Flowering piñon trees dot the mountainside alongside other lush, diverse foliage and the Yassica river behind.

On our way back to the farm, we stopped and chopped some branches off a large piñon tree to plant back at the farm and diversify our area. Unlike many other trees, piñon branches (as well as moringa) can be planted directly into the ground to become a new tree. They are the most commonly used fence post in the Dominican Republic because you can “chop and drop” them once they grow large enough and feed them to the cattle. Fence posts into food in just a few months!

Taino Organic Farm volunteers as well as permaculture designer Charlie Durrant and farmers Victor and Juan Carlos atop a mountain overlooking Los Brazos, Dominican Republic

Taino Organic Farm volunteers as well as permaculture designer Charlie Durrant and farmers Victor and Juan Carlos atop a mountain overlooking Los Brazos, Dominican Republic

 

The longer I am here, the more I appreciate not only the world around me, but also all of the pieces that allow it to function. We see the permaculture principles in action all around us. The community at Taino farm experienced permaculture principle number one by observing our environment and interacting with each other to learn about what I consider the most important subject of all: the interaction of life in nature.

Continuing our introduction to permaculture, this week we discussed permaculture ethics and design principles.

The three permaculture ethics are:

  1. Earth care
  2. People care
  3. Fair share

The twelve permaculture design principles are:

  1. Observe and interact
  2. Catch and store energy
  3. Obtain a yield
  4. Apply self regulation and accept feedback
  5. Use and value renewable resources and services
  6. Produce no waste
  7. Design from patterns to details
  8. Integrate rather than segregate
  9. Use small and slow solutions
  10.  Use and value diversity
  11. Use edges and value the marginal
  12. Creatively use and respond to change

Full descriptions of the permaculture ethics and design principles can be found here.

We also went over David Holgren’s permaculture flower, which outlines specific fields, design systems and solutions that aim to create a sustainable culture. A downloadable version can be found here in both English and Spanish.

Charlie explaining the seven areas of the permaculture flower.

The group discussed in English and Spanish ways we are helping to create a sustainable culture.

There are seven areas to consider:

1. Land and Nature Stewardship (such as organic agriculture, keyline water harvesting and integrated aquaculture)

2. Building (Passive solar design, eco-housing, natural construction materials)

3. Tools and Technology (reuse and creative recycling, efficient and low pollution wood stoves, energy storage)

4. Education and Culture (Home schooling, transition culture, Waldorf education)

5. Health and Spiritual Well-being (home birth & breast feeding, holistic medicine, yoga)

6. Finances and Economics (WWOOFing, Farmers Markets, Community Supported Agriculture)

7. Land Tenure and Community Governance (cooperatives, ecovillages, consensus decision making)

While many of us consciously cultivate these areas of our lives, the permaculture flower helps us to focus on making our way of being more practical and sustainable.

Taino farm volunteers Karin and Honza taking notes on the permaculture flower.

Taino farm volunteers Karin and Honza taking notes on the permaculture flower and coloring their own.

We also watched a video in which Geoff Lawton gives an overview of all of the Zones found in a permaculture design. You can find information about Zone 1 in my last blog post.

-Zone 2 is the area where you will find main crops as well as small animals that need regular attention (such as poultry or rabbits). It can contain food forests that are frequently visited.

-Zone 3 is typically used for self-fed animals (such as cattle) as well as other farm forestry.

-Zone 4 often is where wood fuel comes from and where mushrooms are cultivated.

-Zone 5 is wilderness. Though it may be used for foraging and hunting, it is mainly left untouched and is used for contrast and inspiration.

Fresh green beans, eggs, kale, tomatoes and avocado for lunch at the farm.

We packed a lot into the lesson and still had time to enjoy a fantastic farm fresh organic lunch together!